The N-Factor

Size does matter –in testing situations. A study published in Psychological Science in 2009 investigated the effect of testing size to SAT scores. Two professors, one from the University of Michigan and the other from Haifa University, compiled data from the College Board for all 50 states. Using information from the 2005 SAT (the “new” SAT format), they compared each state’s average SAT scores to its “test taker density.” They identified the “density” as the number of students taking the test divided by the number of testing locations available in the state. The results: the higher the testing density, the lower the average SAT scores. To allow for the lower population in some of the more rural states, they then factored in ACT scores. Even with those additional scores, the states with the lower populations had higher average scores. Finally, the researchers studied data from cognitive tests from students within the University of Michigan. Once again, they found that students who tested in smaller groups performed better than those who took tests in large areas like auditoriums and lecture halls. They called the results the N-factor. The size of the competitive group affects the test taker.

In fact, even the PERCEIVED size of the competitive group can adversely affect results. Some research volunteers who took a quiz alone were told that they werecompeting against 9 others. Another group (also solitary test takers) was told that 99 others were also taking the test at the same time. “The students who thought they were in the smaller pool finished the quiz significantly faster than those who thought they were 1 in 100.”

So, what can do to counteract the N factor? One suggestion would be to try to relieve the stress that is a natural consequence of the situation. Aside from practicing and studying content, students need to learn memory, focus and relaxation techniques as they prepare for exams like the Sat & ACT. If students can train themselves to disregard the others taking the test with them, they may achieve better results. They need to focus on THEIR results and remind themselves that they are competing only against themselves.

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